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From the Bhagavat Gita As It Is, Shrila AC Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada's introduction;
The effect of chanting Hare Krsna is stated by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu: ceto-darpana-majanam. "It will cleanse your heart." If we go on chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, gradually the dirty things accumulated within our heart will be cleansed away. This is Lord Caitanya's promise. The dirtiest thing within our heart is the bodily concept of life. Actually, the whole modern world is suffering from this misconception. If one is in the bodily concept of life, thinking "I am my body," then the basic principle of his life is false. So this bodily identification is the dirtiest thing within our heart. Now, if we chant the Hare Krsna mantra, gradually we shall understand, "I am not my body; I am a spirit soul (aham brahmasmi)." And if we come to the point of understanding that we are not the body but a spirit soul, then other things will follow. As the Bhagavad-gita states, brahma bhutah prasanstmana socati na kanksati: "When a person becomes Brahman realized, when he understands he is a spirit soul, the first benefit is that he becomes free from all kinds of hankering and lamentation." In this material world two things are going on: hankering and lamentation. Things we do not possess we hanker after, and things we do possess and somehow or other lose, we lament over. Actually. the whole situation is full of lamentation. Because we are constantly losing. Take,for example, our body, which we have received from our father and mother on a certain date. Gradually we are losing it. Suppose you are twenty years old. That means you have already lost twenty years of your life. I am now seventy-six years old. That means I have lost seventy-six years of my life. So, the duration of our life is limited, and its end is already destined. According to our past activities, we have received a body whose duration of life is already fixed. And the standard of our happiness and distress is also fixed. You cannot change it. You are all students here . Is there any science being taught here that can increase the duration of life or stop death? No. That is not possible. Birth, old age, disease, and death- these are the main problems of life. Nobody wants to die, but death is sure. We must die. Nobody wants to take birth, but there is birth. Now there are so many contraceptive methods for checking birth, but the population of the world is still increasing. Nobody wants to become old; everyone wants to remain young and fresh. But old age overcomes everyone. Similarly, disease is inevitable. There have been many advances in scientific knowledge, but there is no science to stop disease or to stop death.
So birth, old age, disease, and death are our actual problems. But these problems pertain to the body. The soul is different from the body. I am a soul, you are a soul, but somehow or other we have become entrapped in these material bodies and are experiencing the changes of the body. You can all understand that your body is changing while you, the soul, remain unchanged. Once you had the body of a baby, then you had the body of a child, and now you have a youthful body. And some days from now you will have a body like mine, an old body. So the body is changing, but I, the soul, am remaining the same. Therefore our real identity is that we are eternal souls in changing bodies. Lord Krsna explains this in Bhagavad-gita [2.131:] dehino 'smin yatha dehe kauma-ram yauvanam jara tatha- dehantara-praptir dharas tatra na muhyati. In this verse of Bhagavad-gita, Krsna explains how the soul transmigrates from one body to another. If we simply study this one verse, our life will become different. We will understand that the soul is eternal, and that it is transmigrating from one type of body to another. There are 8,400,000 species, or types of bodies, and we have been transmigrating from one to another of them since time immemorial, entrapped in the cycle of birth, old age, disease, and death. This is our real problem. But in the universities and other educational institutions there is no department to find out what that thing is, which is entrapped within the body. To get this information we must turn to the Bhagavad gita: dehino 'smin yatha Dehe means "in the body" and dehinah, "the possessor of the body." The body is just like a shirt and coat.You are the possessor of the shirt and coat,but the shirt and coat are not you. YOU are different from the shirt and coat. Similarly,we have two kinds of bodies; The gross body and the subtle body. The gross body is made of earth, water, fire, air, and ether. And the subtle body is made of mind, intelligence, and ego. So when we quit the gross body, the subtle body carries us to another gross body. This is the process of transmigration of the soul. Transmigration is not a question of belief. It is a fact. If we neglect to study this scientific knowledge, we will miss a great opportunity, because only in this human form of life do we have the developed intelligence to be able to understand what is within the body that is so important. So the Krsna consciousness movement is teaching the importance of the soul. What is the soul? What are the needs of the soul? Is the soul entrapped within the material body? How can the soul be liberated? And after liberation, what is the function of the soul? These are the questions we are dealing with. And they are very nicely answered in the preliminary spiritual study, Bhagavad-gita. For higher study, graduate study, we have the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Our only request is that you do not neglect this subject matter,this science. Try to understand the soul. At the present moment no science professor can explain that thing which is present in a living body but missing from a dead body. Actually, according to the Vedic literature, the body is always dead. But as long as the soul is in the body, the body appears to be living. As long as you are wearing your coat, it apppears to be alive,it moves. The coat has no life, but because your body moves, the coat also moves and seems alive. Similarly, the body itself is moving because the soul within it is moving. As soon as the soul goes out of the body, the body does not move, and we call it "dead". But actually the body is always dead.
So, the science of Krsna consciousness is very important, and its basic principle is to understand the soul. One may believe in the existence of the soul, or one may not believe . But fact is fact. Two plus two equals four, whether we believe it or not. If somebody does not believe it and says two plus two equals five or three, that does not change the fact. Similarly, we may not believe in the existence of the soul, but the existence of the soul is nevertheless a fact. And if we study the subject matter very seriously and scientifically, it will be possible for us to understand the soul. The simple method for understanding the soul, the one recommended in the Vedic literature, is to chant the Hare Krsna mantra. Then gradually your intelligence, or consciousness, will be cleansed, and you will be able to understand that you are not the body but a spirit soul. And if you understand that you are a spirit soul, that you are brahman [spirit], you will become free from the blazing fire of material existence.
Artwork courtesy of The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc. www.krishna.com.